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A multiple case study of perceived reasons for, and strategies to prevent, pre -course student attrition in online courses of a midwest community college

Matthew Ray Gotschall, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this mixed method multiple case study was to discover self reported reasons from adult students for pre-course attrition and possible strategies of intervention that could be taken to decrease the likelihood for student attrition in online courses of a Midwest community college. Pre-course attrition was defined by this researcher as the action of a student who had registered for an online course to choose to not participate in the course prior to the course beginning. ^ A review of literature focused on past attrition and retention research and possible variables for pre-course attrition. The study took place over two academic sessions, Summer 2002 and Spring 2003. ^ A more dominant interview was used with sixteen, non-participating online adult students. A less dominant instrument of recent life experiences was completed by 245 online adult students. Eventually, the theme of unrealistic expectations with major sub-themes of juggling commitments and struggling with issues emerged. Adult students juggled online participation with commitments to family and friends, program and degree requirements, work and care for self. Adult students struggled with issues like subject matter, technology problems, academic standards, personal expectations, financial assistance and changing careers. ^ No significant differences were reported between the adult students who participated in online courses and adult students who demonstrated pre-course attrition and the factors of gender, age groups, or number of online courses registered. Of the returned surveys, there were many similarities between participation groups in terms of recent life experiences. These similarities included “a lot of responsibilities” and “too many things to do at once”. ^ Strategies to increase online course participation suggested by adult informants were clustered into the following themes: services, interaction, preparedness, extrinsic motivators and intrinsic reminders. ^ The study concluded with a summary of findings, conclusions and recommendations for future research to enhance a successful start for adult student participation in online courses. ^

Subject Area

Education, Community College|Education, Technology of

Recommended Citation

Gotschall, Matthew Ray, "A multiple case study of perceived reasons for, and strategies to prevent, pre -course student attrition in online courses of a midwest community college" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3117800.